Google Play app download rankings
The top free listings for Google Play in South Africa on Tuesday.
  • South African iPhone users and, with a slight lag, Android users, are rapidly downloading the Telegram messenger app.
  • Signal is also seeing quick adoption in SA.
  • Both now consistently displace WhatsApp in download charts, after its disastrous demand that users sign up to new policies or get booted.
  • WhatsApp is now working hard to send the message that it can't read your messages, but is not changing its privacy policy.
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South Africans are trying out Telegram in huge numbers – and competitor Signal to an only slightly lesser extent – amid an exodus from WhatsApp.

But it is not yet clear how many users will actually stick to the two lesser-known apps.

Data from the Google Play Store for Android devices and Apple's App Store for iPhones show that Telegram and Signal are the number one and number two most downloaded apps respectively for the third day running.

As of Tuesday, WhatsApp had been relegated to position number four on iPhones, and number seven on Android smartphones.

That is a huge change for all three apps. On 1 January, data from information provider Sensortower shows WhatsApp was the second most download app for iPhones, beaten out only by the government Covid Alert app. Telegram came in at number 58, and Signal did not make the top 100.

On the same day, on the Play Store, Telegram came in at number 64.

The change came first slow, then fast. Telegram overtook WhatsApp in iPhone downloads on 7 January, but Signal still lagged behind on the Apple platform. Android users were slower to try out the alternative messengers, only pushing Telegram to the top of the Play charts on Sunday, three days after it hit the top spot with Apple.

See also | How to check if WhatsApp already gives your info to Facebook – but it will take three days

Anecdotal evidence suggests many South African users are actively trying to shift important WhatsApp groups to either Signal or Telegram, but it is not yet clear how many are succeeding in convincing family, friends, and colleagues to make the jump. Nor is it clear whether those downloading the rival apps are sticking to them, or going back to WhatsApp after failed attempts at migration. 

WhatsApp, meanwhile, has launched efforts to reassure users their privacy is not at risk, with a focus on the security of messages. In a new FAQ the Facebook-owned company stresses that end-to-end encryption of text and calls means it can't see the content of communication.

"We go to great lengths to build WhatsApp in a way that helps people communicate privately," says WhatsApp, adding it had received "thoughtful questions" about its new privacy policy and terms of service.

It has made no changes to those policies, nor has it offered any way to opt out of its sharing data with Facebook, including phone numbers and at least rough location information.

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